Keeping Romantic And Personal Relationships On An Even Playing Field
Aug 06, 2022
(Photo by Mat Brown)
What does it mean to keep score in a relationship? Have you ever thought something like: "I've called them 3 times to hang out, am I the only one who cares about this friendship? I'm not going to call again. I'll just see how long it takes for them to reach out, or even notice." That's keeping score and it's a game with no winners.
What the thoughts really stem from though, is you not feeling valued or appreciated. It's understandable to feel this way. Especially when you care about someone and you aren't feeling like the care comes back. But there are some things to keep in mind before you start playing this dangerous game.
How the score-keeping starts
It's easy for people to get overwhelmed with work and responsibilities. They may unintentionally neglect people in their life, even those they care about. That's a time when they most need the support of those closest to them. To be reached out to, rather than expected to reach out.
This is a time where you may be tempted to keep score. Your negative inner voice may tell you that they aren't contacting you because they don't want to see you. Your pride may try to protect you by telling you that you didn't want to be friends with them anyway.
But if you withhold in a relationship when the "score gets uneven," you may be letting someone down during a tough time for them. You don't always know another person's level of energy, where they're coming from, or what's hard for them.
Negativity about someone else's contribution to a relationship can lead to a downward spiral. You might start to focus on keeping contributions completely equal. As soon as you feel like you have put in more than the other person, you may begin to withhold or withdraw.
The other person may notice your withholding and not understand why you are choosing to do this. It is likely that they are completely unaware that there is a game at all. It is probable that this person is not intentionally taking advantage of or neglecting you. Try to remain understanding and communicate. Get an understanding of each other's needs, wants, and feelings. A positive cycle has to start with someone.
When you give a little, you gain a lot
Try to intercept your negative inner voice with questions like: "Is it possible that they're just busy?" or "Maybe they're doing something fun and they aren't paying attention to their phone?" While the second might give you some FOMO, it's a good way to exercise being happy for others' experiences. To appreciate the lives that others have away from us, and work on any jealousy for not being a part of it.
You can also develop your relationships by uplifting each other. Not only giving others the benefit of the doubt, but really putting in the work. If you always put in a little more than you take out, then you have the best chance of success with any relationship.
Establishing a culture of trust, helpfulness, sincerity and gratitude is important. By starting a cycle of contribution to a relationship, others may follow your example. Remember, you are the only person in the relationship that you can control. But you can help turn a bad situation into a good one.
Paying attention to your feelings
You may also be thinking that the other person should notice or be aware of how you feel. But that can lead to passive-aggression or even aggression. We should all assume that nobody knows how we feel until we tell them. If you find yourself beginning to keep score, ask yourself if you're feeling neglected.
Are you taking care of yourself? Do you have specific expectations of how those close to you should treat you? Is it a reasonable ask? Is it possible at this time?
If your partner works out of town, it's understandable to miss that closeness. But what if you both decided that they would call you every day and one day they don't. Being upset is reasonable. Being upset with them is less reasonable than setting up an expectation going forward that you get some communication if there won't be a call. Like a text or an email, but just something so you both know what's going on. Even this situation is heavily nuanced, but it's just an example scenario.
You may sometimes miss the ways in which others show you love or appreciation. They may "fail" to meet your expectations. But we should all try to be aware of the different ways that other people express their gratitude. We risk missing an important gesture. For example, some people give huge, exorbitant gifts, and some give small, thoughtful gifts. Both are good even though one is bigger.
Once you realize your true feelings and what you need, reach out, have a conversation, and tell them how you feel. It might surprise you that they had no idea. Talk about why you were both acting the way you were, more often than not it's a misunderstanding. Handling the situation in a non-judgmental way will bring you closer together. Not having the conversation can harm your relationship.
You could also try and see if you can anticipate the needs of the people that you care about. Is there something that is easy for you but hard for them? Can you take care of that thing for them? Small stuff like taking out the trash, or washing the dishes, or bringing someone close to you a coffee at work. Something that takes you a few minutes could make a big difference in their day.
Most importantly, take care of yourself (and others when you have the energy). Self care will help you to feel more confident, happy, and healthy. It will give you the strength to weather any storms that may come your way.
For some information about Attachment Theory and how it affects relationships, click here.